Major Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 spoilers below.
It’s become something of an axiom of modern cinema that non-hard-core-geek moviegoers will find themselves baffled by the at least a few scenes of a superhero movie. As the names of the gaffer and caterer scroll down, average Joes and Janes brace themselves for terms and characters that will cause some portion of the crowd to erupt in knowing cheers and lead the rest to scratch their heads and wonder, Am I supposed to know what they’re talking about?
But even serious nerds may find themselves among the head-scratchers at Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Writer/director James Gunn is a noted fan of Marvel Comics ephemera, and his Easter eggs are deep cuts. Don’t worry, space cadets — we’ve gotcha covered. Here’s a rundown of the obscure comic-book shout-outs in the flick, as well as what role they could play in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Stakar, a.k.a. Starhawk, a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone’s character
It’s long been known that good ol’ Sly was going to make an appearance in the Guardians sequel, but only recently was it uncovered what, exactly, he’d be doing: playing a version of Starhawk. The character — birth name Stakar — has been kicking around since the mid-’70s heyday of Marvel’s cosmic comics, the brainchild of the legendary Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema. On the printed page, Starhawk was born in the then-future of 2002, the offspring of existing characters Kismet and Quasar. Due both to his parentage (Kismet is an artificial being with superpowers) and his adventuring (he was into exploring mystical ruins), Starhawk developed fabulous powers including those of flight and invulnerability. His life story is … astoundingly complicated (and features him having kids with his adopted sister, ew), and not really worth getting into here because his movie depiction has nothing to do with any of that. In the MCU, he’s just a leader of a faction of the Ravagers, the space pirate confederation that Yondu belongs to. Indeed, the only carryover from the comics, other than his name, is his affiliation with …
… these dudes, who are the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Ba-whaaa? Yes, you heard that right: There was a team who went by that alliterative moniker decades before the comics debut of the current incarnation of the squad in the late aughts. Within the pages of the comics, this team first showed up in 1969, the creation of writer Arnold Drake and artist Gene Colan. Their story began in the 31st century of an alternate timeline, where they were brought together to defend Earth from alien invaders known as the Badoon. They eventually traveled back to the 20th century to encounter our better-known Marvel heroes, too. At one point, the nascent grouping we’re more familiar with stumbles across the name and decide it suits them, thus carrying on the nominal legacy. However, again, those specifics have virtually nothing to do with what we see in the film. There, we encounter some of the 1969 Guardians reimagined as various Ravagers of the present day: the very large and strong Charlie-27 (Ving Rhames); the crystalline Martinex (Michael Rosenbaum, defecting from his DC roots on Smallville and the Justice League cartoon); the badass Aleta (Michelle Yeoh), the aforementioned sorta-incest-sister of Stakar, a bit the MCU will almost certainly omit; and a red fish creature that I couldn’t identify as anyone in particular. I’m guessing they’ll play a significant role in the already-confirmed third installment, perhaps haggling over the “Guardians of the Galaxy” branding somehow.
Pride of place is given to a mysterious cocoon at the very end of the film, crafted by the golden-toned Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). When asked about it, she says she’s calling its inhabitant “Adam.” This is a very clear reference to one of Marvel’s strangest and most glorious heroes, Adam Warlock. As is true of all things cosmic in Marvel, Adam’s tale is also woefully complicated, but suffice it to say he’s an artificially created being who may or may not be the universe’s messiah. He traditionally has a relationship to two things: cocoons (where he returns to recharge his Superman-like powers and regenerate after harsh battles) and Ayesha (depicted in comics as his artificially created sister; here, she’s more like a mother). While we don’t know how Adam will be used in the MCU, one feature of his comics life is salient: He usually possesses one of the Infinity Gems, the comic-book equivalent of the MCU’s all-important Infinity Stones. The only Stone that is currently unaccounted-for in the films is the Soul Stone — and guess which Gem Adam usually has in the comics? Given that the raison d’être for next year’s blowout Avengers: Infinity War is the sinister Thanos’s obtainment of all the various Stones, it seems very possible that we’ll next see Adam and the Soul Stone in that flick, thus bringing the adventures of the Guardians smack-dab into the middle of those of the Avengers.
Once again, we have a Ravager who shares a name with an existing comics character, but little else. Taserface — also known as Overkill — was a foe of the original Guardians who had mastered 31st-century technology derived from the by-then-ancient armor of Iron Man. Here, he’s just another pirate, but one significant improvement is made: His face actually looks like it was fried by Tasers, as opposed to the original comics dude’s visage, which was just a little bestial. We are still sorely denied an explanation of how an alien could have “Taser” in his name, given that the word is derived from a reference to the Tom Swift novel series. No, seriously!
That talking duck
For about two seconds, we see an anthropomorphic duck hanging out in a seedy dive. This feathered fella, voiced by Seth Green, is Howard the Duck, one of the craziest and most beloved characters in Marvel history. He made a credits-scene appearance in the first Guardians picture, and if you want to know more about him, check out our explainer from back then. I’m guessing he’ll never be a full-on major character in the MCU, but may make some periodic cameos — though not as many cameos as …
… Marvel icon Stan “the Man” Lee, who, of course, is in this sucker. He merits his own entry here mainly because there appears to be an Easter-egg revelation about his aforementioned cameos. While talking to some companions on a blasted rock in space (we’ll get to those people in a sec), he mentions that he once dressed up as a FedEx man. This is a reference to Lee’s previous cameo in Captain America: Civil War, and implies that the Stan we see in all of these MCU movies might actually be the same person. Either way, we can be sure of one thing: he likes to chill with …
Stan Lee’s extraterrestrial companions
… some aliens with giant heads and Ancient Greece–style togas. These are the Watchers, a race of creatures who are vital and central in the Marvel mythos. They are observers of all that goes on in the universe, sworn never to interfere in what they see. However, that kind of rule is just made to be broken, no? As such, the Watcher of Earth, Uatu, has regularly gotten involved in the various super-happenings of our crazy planet. Here, we don’t see them do much of anything other than listen to astro-Stan and get bored. Uatu first appeared as the co-creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in a story where he warned Earth of the coming of the cosmic destroyer Galactus — perhaps a filmic version will show up to warn us of the coming of Thanos in Infinity War?
It’s mentioned that Peter Quill’s dad, the godlike being Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), is a Celestial. In comics, the Celestials are a race of, well, godlike beings, created in the later career of the great Jack Kirby. We already heard mention of a Celestial in the previous Guardians film — the city of Knowhere was situated in the dead skull of one. The Celestials have a very specific look in comics, one we haven’t seen so far in the movies, and they all hang out together. Since Ego mentions that he was born alone and didn’t know what he was, we might infer that “Celestial” in the MCU just means “a god-ish thing.”
This one’s a cut so deep, it practically strikes oil. One of the planets seen in the film is Contraxia, a planet only seen four times ever in comics. It has no particular significance, but the use of the name acts as a dog whistle for the most hard-core fans in the audience.
Dancing Jeff Goldblum
Blink and you’ll miss one of the great joys of the flick, which is a tiny circle showing Jeff Goldblum dancing during the credits. This is a little advance glimpse of his role as the game-loving Grandmaster in this fall’s Thor: Ragnarok. Please, dear Celestials, let that movie feature him getting funky.